23W Spotlight: Body Image, Therapy And Finding Food Freedom With Diana

By Asha Khan

We often feel isolated in our struggles, whatever they may be – food, body image, motivation, exercise. Sometimes all we need is to hear that someone else shares our fears and insecurities. Even better if they are working through them and want to share their journey! We are so lucky that our very own Diana Gonzalez has decided to share her journey to find balance and self confidence. Like many of us, Diana has struggled with food focus, negative body image and felt pressure to look a certain way. In this interview Diana shares how she has approached these issues to understand where they come from and how to regain freedom around food and improve her mental health.

Can you remember your first experience with negative body image? 

I feel like I grew up with a negative body image since I was a kid. I do remember being in primary school, like in 3rdor 4thgrade and feeling uncomfortable with my body. I was always a chubby kid, but nothing to be really worried about. My weight wasn’t unhealthy. My parents decided to treat my being “overweight” very early in my life because they thought this was going to save me from suffering any kind of inconveniences in the future. I do recognise the good place where they were coming from but putting me on these diets and food plans just ended up creating a very negative body image. Having to experience all these weight management programs from a young age was the reason for me to form a relationship with food based on control, restrictions and negativity in general.

What were your main struggles with body image? 

  • I struggled with feeling confident, no matter how my body was at the time.
  • I always felt like the chubby kid or the fat girl.
  • I find it hard to recognise myself and my body separate from that feeling of insecurity.
  • Harmful beauty ideals. 
  • How my eyes betray me when I stand in front of a mirror. 

Did they change as you got older?

The older I get, the more I am learning about how to live in peace and love with my own amazing self.

What were your food struggles?

  • Food struggle came as restrictions.
  • I created a relationship with food based on control, limitations and guilt.
  • Constant thoughts about food.
  • Thinking all the time about how I wanted to eat.
  • Counting how many times I ate that day.
  • Going over and over the perfect balance of foods for the day. 
  • Promising myself I was going to eat better the next day.
  • Dealing with this loud voice that was really hard to ignore and that did not leave me alone for a long time.

I can say that now my relationship with food is way more open and flexible, and also that the voice only comes back once in a while.

When did you decide to seek professional help? Was there a specific moment or was it a build up over time?

I started looking for professional help in 2018 but I think that the work I did at that time to treat this issue was not focusing on the root of the problem. 2019 was a year of lots of deep self-reflection and learning for me and from there I decided to finally get out from under the shadow, so at the beginning of this year I started to see a new therapist. 

What are some of the approaches you and your therapist tried? 

  • Exploring the reactions of my body to all different kinds of food. 
  • Eating everything I wanted whenever I wanted. 
  • Removing restrictions or judgment of good or bad. 
  • Being really conscious of how each food was affecting my physical body: How my body reacted to the food, feeling bloated, feeling energised or sluggish, heavy or light, full or satisfied.

Then I started changing my choices based on how my body felt. At the beginning it was really hard for me to act over those restrictive thoughts about food but I finally started to get rid of them slowly, this helped me a lot It got me to know my body better.

Then, after this process my therapist encouraged me to be more compassionate with myself by avoiding self-criticism. I started loving myself and making gestures like cooking nice recipes, congratulating myself for everyday achievements and also by being grateful for even the smallest things. 

You do not need to track calories to get results, check out this blog to learn How To Understand Portion Size. 

Did you find this transition from restriction to compassion challenging?

It was really hard for me to eat whatever I wanted without thinking about the consequences. It took me a few weeks to feel comfortable doing that. I tried training twice a day at the gym to cope. Ange asked me if I was doing it as a punishment for me eating, which was absolutely right. I guess my brain was trying to trick me into a different form of restriction. After this I changed a few things:

  • I started to see it as an experiment to find out what was right for my body.
  • I created an excel sheet to classify the foods into groups based on my body’s reaction: love, tolerate and don’t like.
  • I did double sessions only when there were different classes and when I wanted to. I feel like this made me more passionate about exercise. 

What are the most important lessons you have taken away from working with a therapist?

  • Therapy helps to see things in a different perspective.
  • Stops you from getting stuck in the process. 
  • Being able to truly listen to my body. 
  • Learning a new way to choose my food, based on how my body feels and away from generic judgments of what is “good” or “bad”
  • Being more kind and compassionate towards myself. 
  • Being more open to different foods and incorporating them in my diet.
  • Finding balance. 
  • Learning to redefine old concepts to leave behind that control perspective.
  • Finally changing that controlling and restrictive relationship I used to have with food. 

 These images highlight how I am mixing random foods and getting creative!

How are you feeling these days?

After all these months of work I have started to appreciate my body a lot more, not only for how it looks but more for how strong it is and for what it is capable of. This is something I have learnt at 23W. You helped me see how strong my body was. How powerful a woman’s body can be, regardless of what they look like. 

For more inspiring stories from our members, check out Hayley Has HS where she shares her story in managing an auto inflammatory condition and body confidence issues. 

On Lockdown

It took me a little bit to be fine with the situation but I finally understood that these changes to my body were ok and that the most important thing was keeping myself sane and healthy. I do really miss the amazing empowering female energy of the gym, but I feel grateful to see you all staying safe through Zoom and through your Facebook posts.

A note to end on

It takes time to build a completely new relationship with food after all those years of restriction. I am sure there is more work to do for me to completely overcome this issue, but now I can say I feel stronger than ever, I feel I know myself better than ever before and I am treating my mind and my body with more love every day that passes.

If you enjoyed reading and learning about body image and our relationship with food check out Do You Trust Your Body or  5 Food Myths To Ditch.

Disclaimer
If you or another individual is suffering a mental health crisis or struggling with disordered eating, seek medical attention by contacting your doctor, visiting an emergency room or calling 000.
Note that if you have a psychologist, telehealth consults are fully subsidised if you are on a Medicare mental health plan.

If you need to talk to someone or need any extra help, please reach out to the following resources.
Beyond Blue
1300 22 4636

Butterfly Foundation
1800 33 4673

Life line
13 11 14

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Our founder

Ange Drake is an personal trainer, women’s empowerment coach and fitness blogger in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. She is the director of one of the few womens’ only strength training gyms in Melbourne, 23W. Ange helps women to learn how to use strength based training, nutritional strategies and a positive mindset to transform their bodies, relationship with food and mind.

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